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Bollywood Deserves Its Own Oscar Category
The 81st ceremony of the Academy in 2009 was called “Indian Oscars” because the film “Slumdog Millionaire” won eight awards, including the best film and the best director. The film is set in India, the actors are Indian, a third of the dialogue is in Hindi (one of India’s many languages), and there is a Bollywood-style song at the end, but it is not not, as many Americans believe, an Indian film. The filmmakers, including director Danny Boyle, are British. Only three of the film’s eight Academy Awards went to Indians: legendary composer AR Rahman won Best Original Score, Rahman and lyricist Gulzar won Best Original Song, and Resul Pookutty won the Best Sound Mixing – which should not be confused with Best Sound Editing. Yes, there are two separate Academy Awards for sound production, as well as two awards for documentary, two awards for animation and three awards for short films. At the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010, the number of candidates for Best Film doubled to 10. However, there is only one award for Best Foreign Film, chosen from only five candidates. Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world in terms of film production and audience numbers, has never won that award. And it’s not because Bollywood movies don’t deserve the honor.
Over the past 20 years, the countries that have dominated the Best Foreign Film category are France (10 nominations, 1 win), Germany (8 nominations, 2 wins), Italy (6 nominations, 3 wins), Spain (5 nomination, 3 wins). wins), and Russia (five nominations, 1 win). Non-European countries have taken home the prize only four times in the last two decades: Japan in 2008, South Africa in 2005, Canada in 2003 (the film was in French), and Taiwan in 2000. An Indian film has been the only nominated three times in the history of the award: “Mother India” in 1957, “Salaam Bombay” in 1988, and “Lagaan” in 2001.
Perhaps the category should be renamed Best European Film for accuracy. And while the Academy is at it, it might add a new category: Best Bollywood Film.
The ceremony is already too long, but the elimination or combination of some of the previously mentioned redundant categories would make time for exciting news – and excitement is what the ceremony needs. What could cheer him up more than Bollywood spectacle? Because, it would bring back the glitz and glamor of Old Hollywood. Think of the red carpet – all those stunning stars in shimmering sarees and silk sherwanis! Fashion commentators will return. American celebrities don’t even compare in their identical tuxedos and black dresses.
But, alas, it is not to be-at least not in 2010. There will be no trace of Bollywood at all next year.
The Film Federation of India has selected a Marathi language film, “Harishchandrachi Factory”, as India’s official submission for the 2010 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film beat 15 nominees, including several top Bollywood films like ‘Fashion’, ‘New York’ and ‘Delhi-6’. This is the second time that India has sent a Marathi film to the Academy – the first was ‘Shwaas’ in 2004. ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ is a film about the making of India’s first film, ” Raja Harishchandra”, in 1913. (India’s film industry preceded America’s by a year – the first Hollywood film was shot in 1914.)
The Film Federation of India, which selects India’s Oscar nominees, is an umbrella trade organization representing all of India’s film industry. That’s right – Bollywood is just one of many in India. Imagine if the US had a thriving Spanish language film industry that gave Hollywood a run for its money, or regional film industries in Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle that rivaled LA. It is like that in India. The term “Bollywood” refers to the Hindi-language film industry based in the city of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. The country’s other film industries include Kollywood, which refers to Tamil-language films made in Kodambakkam district in the city of Chennai; Mollywood, which is the Malayalam language cinema in the state of Kerala; and Tollywood, which refers to Telugu-language films from the state of Andhra Pradesh and Bengali-language films made in the Tollygunge neighborhood of Kolkata. (Marathi language cinema is too small to have a nickname).
The way the best foreign language film category works is this: each country is invited to submit a film to the Academy Awards for consideration, the Academy then narrows those submissions down to five nominees, and one of the nominees the winner is then voted. But Bollywood has to go through two hurdles: first it has to compete with other Indian film industries and then compete on a global platform that is biased towards Europe.
There is another reason why Bollywood movies don’t stand a chance of winning. Like Hollywood, Bollywood is a commercial film industry – for the most part, it makes popular cinema, not art film. And the nominees in the foreign film category are typically very artistic. Even the Hollywood Best Picture winners didn’t win in that category. In a one-on-one contest, would the 1999 Best Picture winner “Shakespeare in Love” beat the foreign film winner, Italy’s “Life is Beautiful”? Not a chance. Did 1995 winner “Forrest Gump” beat Russia’s “Burnt by the Sun,” which won the foreign film Oscar and the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year? No way.
So the chances of Bollywood ever winning the foreign film award is slim. Not that Indians really care because they have their own award ceremonies, namely, the Filmfare Awards. There are no boring categories in that event and there are some interesting ones to boot-like “Best Villain”, “Best Male/Female Debut”, and “Best Dialogue”. Even the statue is better, instead of a muscular golden man who looks like a naked and scary Ken doll, the Filmfare winners get a figurine of a curvy dark woman. When it comes to entertainment, Bollywood just knows how to entertain, even at award ceremonies. It’s a shame he won’t get an Oscar for it.
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